Sunday, December 30, 2018

Christmas Week

Its been a fun and busy week! Of course, the first and foremost thing was to celebrate Christmas, but we also spent time walking the beaches, including Fort Desoto, a Christmas Day boat ride, fishing at John’s Pass, (and Fort Desoto), Having a last check of my hearing aids, (they are working fine), and trying to take pictures of Nanday parrots, also called Black headed conures.
Our list of beaches continues to grow, with most of our walks being along St Pete’s Beach. Other include Clearwater Beach, (which we wrote about in the blog about Sand Key), North Beach at Honeymoon Island State Park, (ditto), Madeira Beach, St Pete Beach, and North Beach at Fort Desoto.
We usually don’t walk Madeira Beach but we waked it this week after Renita needed to visit a shop she had missed. It wasn’t as crowded as some of the other beaches and the unique thing was the large number of sponges that had washed up on the beach. If you have never found and dried out a sponge before you are in for a surprise. Sponges have spicules which are hard spiked shaped crystals and so they are hard when they are dried. The soft natural sponges you buy have been crushed and the spicules have been washed away.
We are usually here for the Sand Castle contest but this year it was early and so we didn’t get to see the sandcastles till yesterday, (they are located on Treasure Islands beach). There was also a volleyball tournament going on, so the beach was quite busy!
The sand castles were still mostly intake! This was despite the high winds and heavy rain. They are made and sprayed using a thin solution of glue and so they are resistant to lots of mother nature’s forces.
We didn’t take any pictures of the volleyball players, but as you can imagine they all seemed to be quite healthy-looking individuals! Hopefully many will win some money, so they can afford swimsuits with more cloth. Protection from. the sun is so important!
Fort DeSoto was quite busy, even our favorite North Beach. We did see a few interesting shells but only a few small ones and so we didn’t collect any more. Instead I concentrated on fishing with bait and while a few other fishermen were catching whiting. My squid only produced one bite all day long.
I also tried fishing at John’s Pass but as before I didn’t have any bites. A few small bonnet head sharks had been caught and even a sheepshead, but they were all being caught on shrimp, and I was casting for Spanish mackerel or snook.
We celebrated Christmas two days early as Jen had to work while I got some clothes, at least I didn’t get any socks or underwear as they are my list favorite gifts, (I don’t mind all the coal I have gotten as coal is a rock and I like rocks). The day after Christmas we gathered together for a traditional dinner of turkey and ham, with a cherry pie, Jen’s cookies and her pumpkin roll!
On Christmas day we got an unexpected gift as Eric called and invited us to go on a boat ride with his friend Mike. His cousin and Uncle also rode along and Mike let Eric drive the boat a s we toured up Boca Ciega Bay. We went up to Clearwater beach before returning to Treasure Island, (Thanks Mike)!
Finally, we have been inundated with a flock of Nanday parrots. They are medium size parrots with a blackhead and green body and are extremely noisy. Tame ones are quite easy to be trained to talk and some even speak up to twenty words. There are quite a few wild flocks of the birds which formed from ones that had once been pets.
Our time here in Florida is almost up and it has been so nice to see Jen, Eric, and to meet many of their friends. We leave here on New Years day and plane on making a stop at Grand Isle, Louisiana, before continuing to our usual winter spot at Fulton, Texas. We would like to wish you all a Happy New Year and of course clear skies.

If you wonder why I sign off with the phrase, “Clear skies’, its because I started using it when my High Astronomy club was the only High school club that was a member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. It was used as a sign off by many of the Society members.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Madeira Beach and Treasure Island Boat Parades

Despite the weather here, we were able to watch both the Madeira Beach and Treasure Island Boat Parades. Jen and Eric’s friend, Mike had invited us to watch them from his fifth-floor condominium balcony, and so we took advantage of the comfortable chairs and great view. The Madeira Beach boat parade was the first, a week before, and the weather had been good so there were more boats.

The boats never did come across John’s Pass and so all the images were too far for much detail. Still we enjoyed the colorful lights and appreciated all the work that had gone into each of the captain’s boats.
The Treasure Island parade had been scheduled for Friday night, but small craft warmings had caused it to be delayed until the following Sunday evening, and not as many boats participated.
The Treasure Island boats paraded right under Mikes balcony and that allowed us to get much better images, as twenty-one colorful boats passed by.
Many were decorated with Santa’s, some in his sleigh, and reindeer. Other boats had with Snoopy and even Pluto.
One of the colorful boats had trailing lights that mimicked two trolling poles and we all wondered if the lights attracted any fish.
Some had right white spotlights and they gave off so much white light that it really washed out many of the other decorations.
One boat even had a giant octopus, clutching candy canes!
As each boat passed by, we waved and most of the boats waved back yelling Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! A
s always, we enjoyed both parades. If you are ever close enough to see a Christmas boat parade, we strongly urge you to find a spot and view it.
Be sure to get there early, have a lawn chair, perhaps a blanket, and rest you arm for the waving!
Clear skies and of course Merry Christmas

Friday, December 14, 2018

Honeymoon Island State Park, Our First Visit

The most visited state park in Florida is called Honeymoon Island State Park. The drive is through four cities and so the thirty-mile drive took is a little over an hour. The park wasn’t very busy. It was midweek, and upon entering we first stopped at the Nature Center. There were nice displays and two park rangers who answered all our questions.
Upon leaving the building we looked north toward the Osprey Trail area. You could see the dominance of the slash pines. These were so named as workers would slash them with knives releasing the sap which would be collected and boiled down to form turpentine.
There was also a small garden of native Florida plants and we took our time to photograph/image them, so we would have references.
Some of the plants were coontie ferns, snow berry and Christmas berry bushes, scorpion tail, and hairy beach sunflowers, all pictured in order.

We then drove to the picnic area and ate our lunch before grabbing our gear, binoculars, phones, and cameras and headed up the Osprey Trail. Just as we started walking, an osprey flew over us! Renita spotted it and correctly identified the fish it was carrying as a sheepshead.
I am so lucky to be married to a Junior Range, duly sworn and badged at a National Park near Natchez, as she is a constant source of information and is always correct, (whew I hope I said that right).
We passed several other ospreys before we reached the Great Horned Owl nest. There were reports of two adult owls in the area, but we didn’t see them. There were quite a few red bellied woodpeckers and I finally got an ok image, good enough for an identification.
We passed several other birders before we reached an area where the trail was barricaded.  The reason the trail is closed is because two bald eagles have arrived at their December nesting site and if you look careful you can see them! If you can’t find the second one here is a hint, look for the bright yellow talons.
We headed back to the vehicle on the Pelican trail which then met the Osprey trail. While there were several lgb’s, little grey birds, that wouldn’t hold still so we could id then or photograph them, we did see four more of the red bellied woodpeckers.
Arriving back at the truck we next headed to the four mile stretch of beach. Parking near North beach we walked out on the beach and discovered that there were lots of shells and several determined shell collectors.
Renita got out her sack and we both collected quite a few small unusual gastropods. She also found a type of sundial gastropod that was different from the ones we find at Matagorda, Texas. They are a pretty colored, small shell and should make some nice earrings.
It was time to head back to our bungalow and Renita drove taking a different route. I had taken the fastest way, but she drove along the shoreline and even though it was a little slower, it was much more scenic, The Junior Ranger was right again! Clear skies

Monday, December 10, 2018

A lazy week in Florida, walks on the beach, baking Cookies, and getting hearing aids

Our routine here is simple. It mainly consists of getting up, lazing around and then going for a walk on the beach. We have been neglecting our exercise, my Fitbit broke, and while Renita has kept her slim figure I have managed to put on weight.
As the beach is only a couple of blocks away, it is easy for us to take a daily walk on St Pete Beach.
The area is mainly condos and so we must dodge cars to cross the main street before we reach one of the beach access spots. Ten minutes and we are kicking off our shoes as we stroll along the surf.
Renita, ever hopeful, always carries a shell sack while I look for unusual corals or sharks’ teeth. The beaches aren’t very crowded as we walk early in the morning, or during the week and so we avoid the influx of locals and other snowbirds. It’s a fine white sand here with lots of shell fragments, quite a difference from the Texas beaches.
We also drove up the Gulf side to check out the beach at Sand Key Park. There were more people there but nowhere near the crowds there are in January. It’s a good place to walk and we did find some coral along with some twig like branches of bryozoans, (they are small coral like animals).
Another day, Jen had the day off work and she invited us over to their house to bake cookies. Did I say I was going weight? Not a cat person her cat sensed it and of course was all over me trying to make sure I knew she was there.
She’s a crazy cat and sleeps in a drawer, even though Jen and Eric had bought her a whale shaped sleeping bin.
Finally, I have broken down and been tested for hearing aids. The test showed I have moderate to severe loss. It also showed that I could improve my conversation skills and so we ordered me a pair. After doing research, (checking out the low scores given in a Consumer Reports comparison), we went to the local Costco store, as the hearing aids only cost sixteen hundred a pair, (I have been saving up for them and have not bought any rocks for the past five months).
So later this week I hope to hear, what people are saying. I also hope to hear birds again, and perhaps be able to hear the “woof” sound if a grizzly bear sneaks up behind me!  Clear skies

Monday, December 3, 2018

A Long Drive to Florida, 2018

Like last year we rented a beach bungalow in Florida.  It was time to make the drive to Florida and it would involve staying in motels along the way. The first day found us in Lafayette, Louisiana and while the room was cheap and somewhat warn, we did go out to a restaurant named, Fezzo’s. It turned out to be one of the best meals I have ever eaten.
We started out the meal with Oysters Rockefeller, which are charbroiled oysters in a cream, butter and spinach sauce. Each bite was heavenly. They didn’t last long, and I followed that with Acadia Catfish over angel hair pasta, and of course it was Cajun seasoned. Renita opted for a hamburger steak and gravy with a side of mushrooms and grilled vegetables.
The desert was bread pudding, but it wasn’t like any bread pudding we have ever had before. The bread had been baked on site and it was infused with a vanilla sauce with a side of fresh beaten whipping cream. Renita actually rolled her eyes when she had her first bite.
Driving across Mississippi and Alabama was very short, with us first passing a tribute to the Apollo astronauts which included the full size Lunar lander used by the astronauts as they trained for the trip to the moon. The Apollo 13 lander was used as a lifeboat by an Astronaut from Mississippi, and Fred Haise signed a cement  panel beneath the lander. Chipley, Florida.
There was also a neat sundial, something which I need to add to our lot in Star Valley. The other excitement was as we passed the USS Alabama, along with a World War Two fleet Submarine. We had already stopped there on a previous trip and so we continued on to
However, as we neared Chipley, we discovered that we were driving into the path of destruction from Hurricane Michael. It was all too familiar, after spending last year and helping in Rockport, Texas.
Road crews were clearing the ditches from the down trees and while a lot of work had been done, there was lots more left to do. One of the differences from Rockport, was that the trees here are tall stately pines, most of which had been ripped apart leaving mile after mile of tree trunk fence posts.
The pines didn’t take the high winds as well as the live oaks in Texas, and it will be a long while before the tree lined forest rises again. It was the first time we have seen how a hurricane can utterly destroy a forest, and we were thirty miles from where it came ashore.
The destruction caused us to drive clear to Tallahassee before we could find a room at an inn. The last day it rained, and the drive was back to the usual task of watching out for crazy Florida drivers. So, we are now in St Pete Beach for the rest of the month. Yesterday we took our first walk on the beach, which is only a few blocks away. Clear skies

ps The receptionist at one of the few motels open in Chipley told us that further south the destruction was total.